Lighting My Way to Intentionality!!

This past Christmas season I set a goal to see as many holiday light exhibits as possible, and I succeeded beyond my wildest expectations taking in more than 20 displays and events! Each one seemed to be more impressive than the one before! I felt so much Joy and so full of life that I didn’t want it to end! So I decided I wouldn’t let it end, because we were not only going into a new year, but also a new decade!! There was lots of talk about New Vision and Seeing Clearly in 2020 and I was absolutely onboard with that!! I wanted to figure out how to carry that Joy and Light into the new decade, as overall 2019 wasn’t the best of years for me!

I decided I’d choose one word to focus on for 2020. The word I chose is INTENTIONALITY! Why that word?? Well we all have family and friends that we spend time with but are we really fully present with them? Do we give them our full attention and really listen, or are we on our phones or doing other types of multitasking? My answer to my own question was NO, except for when I was with my Mom. We pass our friends and neighbors at church or the grocery store and we give a wave. We may even ask “how ya doing?” But are we really hearing their answers? If they said they were “just ok”, did we ask what was going on?

I knew I wasn’t being fully present with others, because even when I was standing still, in my head I was already moving on to the next task I needed or wanted to accomplish. But I really wanted and needed to be better in my relationships! Some of what I felt in 2019 was loneliness, but was it of my own making? In large part, I think so.

I’m writing this on January 15th because it’s halfway through the first month of my INTENTIONALITY and I wanted to write about how it’s going. I’m happy to report that it’s been wildly successful!! I’ve learned things I didn’t know about people I’ve known for a long time!! When I asked how people are, I stood still and listened about their health, their kids and grandkids, their jobs, their goals, fears and their hopes. And I would share as well. I’ve always been a hugger, but I have already hugged people I’ve never hugged before. And even with my old friends I held onto each hug a little longer so they knew I really cared. I can’t remember a year when I’ve felt this amazing about how it’s started!! I feel really connected and I don’t mean on the internet! I feel the same Joy and the Love and the Light that I felt looking at all the holiday displays! I’ve had tea, lunch or dinner with both old friends from my past and people I’ve known just in passing who have become friends and it feels as if I’ve filled a hole in my life!

There’s a lot going on in this world that I wish I could change. So I’m going to do my best for the rest of 2020 to continue to be out in this world helping and inspiring people, and connecting with them and being INTENTIONAL in my interactions in the hopes I can make even small changes in this world. So here’s to more Joy and Love and Light to us all!

“I’m Going to Read ALL of the Books in this Library!”

I clearly remembering saying that to my Mom on one of our first visits to the incredible Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. as she was explaining how many books were contained in the Library. I was about 6 years old at the time.

We visited the Library often, sitting in its massive Main Reading Room researching and writing whatever assignment was due for school, or simply reading for pleasure. As a child I used to get dizzy holding my head back in attempt to see the room’s ceiling which to me seemed higher than the sky!

When I proclaimed to Mom that I was going to read every book in the Library of Congress she never corrected or discouraged me. Instead she said “then you better get started!” I remember reading two chapter books in the reading room that day and was so proud of myself for getting a good start on reading ALL of the books.

Those visits with Mom to this breathtaking place helped to make me the person I am today! My love of all things printed (and now on Kindle) were shaped by Mom’s love of them too. I wouldn’t be an author today were it not for Mom.

I still get goosebumps when I enter the Library of Congress – the marble, the statues, the millions of books, the exhibits – all of which emphasize for me the importance of reading and learning.

When I turned 12 Mom reminded me that the next year I would be a teenager, and at that time she expected me to share with others (including strangers) what I had read and learned in the Library so I could hold a conversation about the topic to get “a different perspective” from my own.

I so looked forward to turning 13 and starting on the mission Mom gave me! Countless people of all ages and ethnicities engaged me in conversation and contributed in a huge way to my personal and spiritual growth.

This past weekend I went to the Library to see the Holiday tree and the Rosa Parks exhibit. As I walked up the marble stairs to the exhibit, tears started to roll down my cheeks! The tears really surprised me, but at that moment I missed my “pre-dementia” Mom so much!

Though I miss going to the Library with her, she’d be very proud that I still go! In spite of the tears I also realized we’ve also received one huge Blessing along our dementia journey. Unlike many others in the late stages of dementia Mom can still read! She can no longer comprehend, but she can proudly belt out all the words on any given page. I read to Mom a lot and she still reads to me (she also makes sure I’m paying attention!)

As I always do any time I visit an exhibit, I took Mom the brochures on the Rosa Parks and the We Shall Not Be Denied exhibits. When I arrived at the group home, Mom was eating dinner and as I sat down to chat with her I put the brochures near her plate. She said hello to me, but never took her eyes off the brochures. Then she put her fork down and started to read, which is very surprising given how much Mom loves to eat!

After watching her read for about 15 minutes I asked her if she wanted to finish her dinner and then read later. What was her answer? “I’m learning something right now!” I love the intensity with which she does everything, and she seemed to really resonated with the black and white photos! As I sat with Mom I reflected on all the fun times we spent in the Library of Congress! Mom used to joke that it was the ONE place I felt honored NOT to talk. I am comforted by the fact that I can cherish those memories for me and Mom! I also reflected on how grateful I am to Mom for teaching me to love learning, something I pray I’ve passed on to my students over these last twenty-two years.

People keep asking me what I want for Christmas and my response is always the same, that I need nothing and that I already have so many gifts in my life! One of the main gifts I’m thankful for is that God has chosen to let Mom keep her ability to read, the ability she cherishes more than anything in this world! There isn’t any gift I could receive Christmas Day that is better than that!

What gift do you already have that’s better than anything you’ll open Christmas morning? My plan is to read a short story to Mom on Christmas Day and I hope she’ll read to me! Best gifts ever and I can’t wait! Love you Mom!

A Ton of JOY mixed with a Little Bit of Pain!

I was determined to start this holiday season early and take in as many of the DC area’s holiday lights and events as I possibly can! Last year I started late, missed a lot and regretted it when the season was over! So there I was on November 30th with Kendal at 5pm in front of the National Zoo waiting for the opening of Zoo Lights, the annual event with beautiful holiday lights that span the entire Zoo property.

We’d started going to Zoo Lights in 2012, the year after Kendal was born, making our first trip while she was still in a stroller. The entire family went each year, including Paul Roberts Abernathy who’d become part of our family years earlier! We’d ride the train and carousel and “oh and ah” over the colorful lights. We took a 3 year hiatus after Tim died in 2016 but I really wanted to restart our tradition.

Imagine my surprise when we discovered that Kendal had no memory of ever attending Zoo Lights with us and Pappy. That made me sad, especially because she has memories of lots of other events from the same time period. Thank goodness for all the pictures and videos we have to share with her.

One advantage of restarting the Zoo Lights tradition now that she’s almost 8 is that she can now ride an inflated tire down the big zoo hill!! That was a blast!! Kendal yelled and screamed during her ride and smiled at, admired and photographed so many of the lights with Tim’s camera. We walked every inch of the Zoo admiring the new animated and life-like animals. Even Kendal’s doll Luciana went with us! Kendal was so exhausted after all her running and playing for 4 hours that we had to catch a Lyft back to my car that I’d left at work. Needless to say we will be back at Zoo Lights next year!!

On December 3rd I left my car at work to take in the many areas in holiday decorated areas in downtown DC without having to look for a parking space. I first went to the upscale area called City Center with designer stores and incredible restaurants! The Center’s Christmas tree and reindeer are HUGE and I felt surrounded by JOY!

That night I also took in the DC Christmas Market, Union Station’s Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony and the tree at the U.S. Capitol! What a night!

On December 6, Kendal was recognized in a ceremony at school for making honor roll, so we celebrated by going to an indoor trampoline playground called Sky Zone! We jumped for JOY for almost 2 hours having the time of our lives. Then all of a sudden Kendal stopped right in the middle of a jump, ran to me and said “I miss Pappy”! We hugged for a long time and I told her it was perfectly ok to miss him and I absolutely miss him too. Then it was back to jumping! One of the things I remember saying right after Tim died was that the wrong Grandparent died, and that Tim was made to be the Best Grandparent Ever, but could only do so for four years. I was determined to ensure I was the fun Grammy doing all the crazy things I knew Tim would do with her! I think I’ve done that so far!

This past weekend was loaded with events and with JOY! On the same day I attended my cousin Bonita’s annual holiday brunch which was filled with fellowship, food and holiday music, and the amazing holiday boat parade at the newly renovated DC Wharf. It was the first time I’d attended that event!! I was reminded at my cousin’s event of how much Tim loved her voice when she and her fellow choir members broke out in an impromptu song!! Tim would have been yelling “Sing Bonita”!! Tears cane to my eyes! Tim would also love the new wharf, and I’m sure that as much as he loved crabs we’d be down there all the time!

Even Mom was able to get in on the holiday fun as Lifesprings Eldercare held their annual holiday event with a red and black theme! I was worried how Mom would do during the two hour event, and packed lots of fidget toys for her to keep her busy, but I was worried for nothing because she was mesmerized for the entire event by her holiday napkin. She even missed the dancers dancing and kids choir singing thanks to her napkin filled with large print words including the word JOY !! Though I was sad she wasn’t aware of what was happening, I was thrilled she had found her own entertainment!

My weekend ended with another first! I trekked up to Brookside Gardens in Montgomery County and walked for two hours to see all of their holiday lights. After my hectic couple of weeks the walk was energizing and very peaceful! I’ll definitely be going back there next year too!

If I had to rate my holiday season so far I’d give it an A+! I’ve smiled and laughed, been sad and have cried and literally have allowed myself to feel every emotion that comes upon me!! The pain I felt in my heart without Tim has been brief and replaced most of the time with the feeling that his spirit was enjoying all the adventures right along with me! I thank God that I’m able to clearly see and feel the JOY of the holiday season while also embracing the moments of pain as just a part of my life! May this be a Holiday Season that allows all of us to feel what we feel and to do only what we want to do!

Blazing a Trail!

November is both National Caregivers Month and National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and because I’ve been working hard to promote them, I’ll be very busy for most of this month!!

I was so looking forward to my annual Pre-Thanksgiving Rally with the RVing Women this weekend because it was going to be a great respite for me in the midst of a lot of work. I knew I needed to leave my favorite ladies for a few hours on Saturday to drive 90 minutes to Baltimore to accept the 2019 Trailblazer Award from Johns Hopkins Medicine. I was told I’d have 12-15 minutes for my “acceptance speech”, so I finished up my speech Friday night while hanging out in Joy and then practiced and timed it before going to bed! I was ready! I had reserved a rental car with Enterprise and they were to pick me up at the campground at 9am so I could head to Baltimore. That turned up to be much more stressful than I’d intended! Enterprise didn’t show up, but thankfully one of my RVing Women took me the 7 miles so I could get my car.

When I stepped into the auditorium at Johns Hopkins Bayview and got the first look at the award I was going to receive I realized how big a deal this award is! Kim came to support me and videotaped it too!

What follows is a transcript of the speech I gave as the recipient of the Trailblazer Award!

“I want to sincerely thank Johns Hopkins for this award, especially Andrea Nelson and her committee and to Jane Marks for being one of my greatest supporters over the last two years along this journey. I also thank my daughter Kimberly for being here and supporting me today. Family really is everything!

When I was told I’d been selected to receive the Trailblazer award I was really overwhelmed. I asked myself am I really a trailblazer? So I Googled trailblazers to get some perspective, and my favorite article I found on the subject was from NASA, which defined a trailblazer as a Leader who points the way, takes the risks, and changes the environment. The article added that Trailblazers have a vision for a different future, a faith that turns their dreams into reality, and a determination that cuts through barriers and obstacles.

After reading those words I’m thrilled to accept this award because it absolutely captures what I’ve strived to achieve from almost the day my Mom was diagnosed with dementia thirteen years ago. Back then I made many mistakes, though all with the mindset of getting any and everything that my Mom needed. While nothing bad happened to Mom as a result of some of my early mistakes, I knew I’d been lucky. I wanted to do everything I could to help other families avoid some of the mistakes I made and I wanted to change the environment by eliminating the stigma that typically accompanies the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Five years ago after learning everything I could about Dementia I began meeting with individuals and families in my home, work and church communities and then added giving presentations and keynote addresses at assisted living and memory care facilities, and at Caregiving, Aging and Alzheimer’s conferences all over the country. I’m stunned that I have earned more than 150, 000 miles on two different airlines and I’ve already forgotten some of the hotels I’ve stayed in. But I haven’t forgotten any of the people! I had no idea what I was doing at first, so much of it I just did on faith. But people responded to me in incredible ways –  I received standing ovations at the end of many of my presentations, and emails or handwritten notes from people letting me know how much I had helped or inspired them or people who burst into tears when I spent a few minutes with them, so relieved that they’d found hope when they didn’t believe there was any or because they realized that they weren’t alone in their fear of this disease and what it can do both to those with the disease and to those who care for them. These interactions, typically with people I’d met for the first time made it clear to me that this work is my calling. It’s what I was born to do, and will continue to do until I die.

The first time my Mom didn’t know who I was on Jan 3, 2014, my 55th Birthday. It was one of the worst days of my life, but since that time I have learned to be whomever she believes I am on that day. Two years ago she simply began calling me “very nice person”. I wish you’d known my Mom pre-dementia! Unlike me, Mom was an introvert but was kind and caring and a true lover of books! I wrote my first book Being My Mom’s Mom not only to help pay for Mom’s care, but also to capture in writing who she used to be.

After Mom forgot who I am to her I had visions of a world without Alzheimers and though it hasn’t come true as of yet, I believe there will be a cure, especially with the dedication and hard work occurring right here at Johns Hopkins and many other hospitals, universities and research facilities. Just as the NASA article mentioned, I am determined to cut through barriers and obstacles until a cure is found! My Mom raised me that way, to always help others and to fight for what was right. Until 3 years ago I had the best partner ever in that fight, my husband Tim who was so much more than a son-in-law to Mom. One of the blessings of dementia was that it allowed me to avoid having to tell Mom that her beloved Tim had died so suddenly. I may no longer have my husband and partner in this fight but I can tell you that he’s cheering me on in spirit. Though my Mom is certainly not the Mom I used to have, I see her almost every day and I find joy in being with her every single time.

If you’d meet my mom today, she would crack you up! As horrific as this disease is, there’s a lot of humor too, because Mom’s wit is as quick as ever! Let me give you a few examples. This past Feb right after her 90th birthday she escaped from her group home and after a couple of blocks she fell into a ditch. Believe it or not she was fine but they took her to the hospital to get her checked out. I rushed to the hospital and when I saw her I asked “so you went for a walk by yourself huh?” She answered “no, I haven’t been for a walk in a long time.” So I asked “then how did you get here to the hospital?” Without a moment of hesitation she pointed to the two EMTs who brought her there and said “they asked me to go ride a ride with them and I said ok”. The EMTs burst into laughter, but how could you not!!

Two weeks ago I had Mom with me as I was signing the coloring books you’re receiving today.

Mom looked at her picture on the back of the book and also noticed my photo next to hers and asked in an exasperated tone, “what are you doing on the back of my book?” I burst out laughing and replied “your book? You wouldn’t even have a book if it wasn’t for me!!” I just shook my head! And then just the other day I arrived at the group home where Mom lives to sign some paperwork just as they were loading the residents into their bus to go get ice cream. Mom waved goodbye to me and the caregivers. I waved back and yelled into the bus “have fun Mom see you when you get back”. She replied “I may go somewhere else, I’ll let you know if I’m coming back”…she’s just a hoot and I’d do absolutely anything for her!

In closing, please know that I‘m going to use this Trailblazer award as extra motivation to keep moving forward in this fight, so be on the lookout for me! I’ll be using my faith and my determination as I continue to speak around the country, and as I continue to participate in fundraising walks and as I continue to go to Capital Hill to beg Congress for more research money! Though I’d never previously thought of myself as a Trailblazer I promise you that I will uphold this title proudly from this day forward! My Mom Doris and I Thank you for this recognition from the bottom of our hearts! Though Mom can no longer remember much of anything, this is a day I will not forget! Thank you all!”

After my award was presented I was congratulated by so many people during lunch and as I personalized the copies of my coloring books that I had signed in advance of the caregiver conference of hope. When I left the auditorium and got in my rental car to head back to Lancaster, PA I burst into tears! The tears were a mix of pride that my work in the fight Against Alzheimer’s is recognized and appreciated, and joy of receiving such a prestigious award, and of sadness that Tim wasn’t here to celebrate with me! During our Thanksgiving dinner last night where my beautiful award was on the display, even the RVing Women acknowledged my awards with loud cheers! I sold quite a few coloring books as well!! It was simply one of the most extraordinary days I’d had in years!

I have three big events this coming week! There’s a caregivers conference in Harrisonburg VA, a luncheon event for Johns Hopkins and a dinner event at a memory care facility. The following week I’ll be in Baltimore County for a caregiver event and in Dover, DE for the Alzheimer’s Association. It may seem like a lot, but when you’re blazing a trail it takes work!! I’m definitely up for the challenge and I’m so proud of this work and the opportunities I’ve been given!! I’m truly Blessed!

What’s That Noise? Oh,… It’s Life!

My house has been dead silent for more than 3 years, especially the upstairs part of the house. There were few sounds unless me or the TV made them. When Kendal visits, there is always laughter and joy, but as soon as she’d leave, the silence returned. Tim was 6 ft 2 inches tall, and when he walked around the house, you knew he was there. The floor creaked in spots when he walked, but the greatest sounds were his laughter.

People have always said I don’t need a lot of sleep, and while that is true, a good night’s sleep has been hard to come by since I’ve been alone. It’s possible that that’s all about to change. After 5 1/2 months of renovation, I officially became a landlord this week when my renter moved into the top floor of my home on Thursday. I don’t think she moved much in on Thursday as I didn’t see any furniture and no car was in the driveway. But I knew she was here because I heard the sound of footsteps above my head. I remember smiling broadly though at the time I didn’t really understand why. It was a long week so I went to bed fairly early on Friday night. One of the last things I remember before falling asleep was the creaking floor caused by footsteps. The next thing I knew I woke up Saturday morning feeling better than I’ve felt in a long time. I felt rested and calm and UNAFRAID. I’ve never liked the dark and I believe that living alone scared me a little. So the sound of footsteps Friday night brought me a peace I hadn’t known since July of 2017. How much peace did it bring? I was shocked when I looked at my FitBit and discovered that I’d slept 8 hours and 5 minutes last night. I don’t know the last time I slept that long.

This evening I took my cousin JoAnne out for a birthday dinner. When we returned from dinner, there wasn’t a parking space to be had in front of my house and a moving truck was in the driveway. Clearly my renter’s furniture had arrived. We did some brief introductions and I learned my renter is one of six siblings and they grew up in SC. As I retreated to my lower level home and settled in for the evening, I couldn’t stop smiling. Above my head my renter and her siblings were laughing and talking as they moved pieces of furniture around. It was glorious chaos and I loved it. These are clearly people who love each other. I haven’t heard sounds like that since the Veneys last came over for Thanksgiving dinner. This house used to be loud … Tim laughing uncontrollably over nothing, which caused me to laugh harder… Tim telling a joke and starting to laugh before he even finished the punchline. Tim yelling at the tv during sports events or movies and me yelling along with him.

For me, hearing my renter move furniture and laugh with her siblings is something that’s been missing in my home for a long time. For me, it’s not noise – it’s life! When I first thought of renting part of my house almost two years ago, my only goal was to use that money to fund my travels. Who knew that one of the greatest benefits would be that in Tim’s favorite part of the house the floor would creak again, and there’d be laughter again. I’m grateful for my renter, and I thank God that my house is alive again!

 

A Few Minutes Can Change Everything!!

I had such a great plan for this weekend!! I worked part of the day yesterday and got home right on schedule at noon! JOY was all packed and ready for our weekend adventure. I had one issue at the house I needed to resolve (what else is new with this renovation) but I was hoping to be on the road by 12:45pm heading to Chincoteague Island, VA to have a blast with my RVing Women friends! My map app ETA was 3 hours and 18 minutes, which is not too bad for a Friday afternoon.

But I didn’t leave home at 12:45 and those extra 33 minutes added to my departure time changed everything! I wanted to fill up at the Royal Farms near my house because they have the cheapest diesel fuel. My goal was to be out of the gas station and on the road by 1:40 at the latest.

The road to the Royal Farms has two lanes and lots of curves. I was heading along doing a few miles over the 40 mph speed limit when a Range Rover appeared out of nowhere right on my bumper. Coming towards me in the other lane was a Potato Chip delivery truck. I sped up a little in attempt to put some distance between me and the Range Rover. As I did so, the Range Rover darted into the path of the delivery truck and then quickly jumped in front of me! Whoa!! Ever try to stop at 24 foot RV in a second? The truck driver and I quickly made eye contact likely both thinking this situation may not end well.

As I was still trying to process my life flashing before my eyes, not one, not two, but three county police cars appeared with lights and sirens going, clearly in pursuit of the Range Rover. I did everything in my power to steer JOY out of harm’s way as did the truck driver. I still don’t understand how we all avoided hitting one another. When I arrived at the Royal Farms a couple of minutes later to get my gas, I was still shaking so much from the incident that I could barely get the gas in the tank. I thought to myself “I hope this isn’t a bad sign for the weekend”…. but it was!!

I left the Royal Farms at 1:45, which I didn’t think was too bad until I looked at the map app again!! My ETA was now 5 hours and 19 minutes… WHAT???? An entire two hours longer?? GEEZ!!! But I got on the beltway with lots of hope that I’d sing along with my great playlists and the time would speed right along even if the traffic didn’t.

Tim and I always had one rule for camping, and that was to never arrive at the campground after dark because trying to set up in the dark could be a dangerous nightmare. I was thrilled that at 6:28 when I was supposed to arrive there would be enough daylight left for me to set JOY up without any problems!

With just 17 minutes to go to the campground, I received a text and a voicemail from two different RVing Women friends. I knew right away this wasn’t going to be good. “Where are you?” was the question. I answered. I was 5 minutes from the “bridge” which is the only way to get onto Chincoteague Island. It was suggested that I pull into the Royal Farms (Yep another Royal Farms) right before the bridge and call them back. I learned that there was some serious tidal flooding and there was talk of closing the bridge!! Oh NO!! I was a mere 13 minutes from all of my friends and the relaxing weekend I had planned!!

I was asked if any closure signs were up or if I saw any police officers or Dept of Transportation workers at the beginning of the bridge. I didn’t, so I proceeded onto the 7 mile bridge hoping I could beat both the darkness and the rising tide!! It was an epic fail. I got to the end of the bridge where there is a traffic light to turn left… all I could see was a lot of water, as opposed to the dry road I prayed would be there.

I don’t do water that’s outside of the boundaries it’s supposed to be contained in, and as most of you know, I can’t swim! Sheer panic set in right away! One of my friends stayed on the phone with me as I turned around to go back to the Royal Farms! Water was inching up and onto the road and was supposed to get even worse as the night wore on. I had almost 6 miles to go to get back to the safety of the Royal Farms. I was terrified and in tears, but made it thanks to my friend!!

I accepted the fact that this trip I had looked forward to all summer (the island has wild horses if you aren’t familiar with it) wasn’t going according to plan. I parked JOY and got ready to spend the night in the Royal Farms parking lot.

Now how great are my RVing Women friends?? REALLY GREAT!! They called, texted, offered to come to the Royal Farms at 1am at low tide when the water would be gone to escort me to the campground and even ride with me or to drive JOY there for me!! Who does that?? This is why I love these women! I was devastated that I was so close to yet so far from my friends on the island, but I know we will have many more exciting trips together in the future!

Around 10pm I had finally calmed down enough to try to rest. I stretched out on my couch and fell asleep. Unfortunately the sleep didn’t last long! Right before 11pm a large group of teenagers (15 to 20 kids) in 3 cars pulled up in the Royal Farms and parked at the pumps where there is always music playing. But they didn’t just pump gas and go!! To drown out the Royal Farms music they turned their music up to the loudest volume possible and began dancing around the pumps…they were screaming and laughing at the top of their lungs and then jumped onto the hoods and tops of their 3 cars to dance. I realized at that moment that I hadn’t remembered to park JOY in a manner that would allow me to quickly escape the gas station. I put the key in the ignition and sat on the floor behind the driver’s seat in the event I needed to drive off quickly if they decided they wanted to try to dance on JOY’s hood. This impromptu party went on for almost 90 minutes!!! When did Royal Farms become a party venue?? The kids weren’t drinking or smoking, just being teenagers in the loudest volume possible and it was annoying (though I know we all did dumb stuff as teenagers too)! You just can’t make this stuff up!!

Needless to say, this morning I was never so glad to see the sunrise in all my life! I had prayed that the water would be gone in the morning so I could join my friends, at least for a few hours but it was not be! I rode back across the bridge and the water was still there and was potentially going to occur again this evening as well!

I’m off on Monday for the holiday but have an event on Sunday with Mom that I don’t want to miss, so it wouldn’t have been smart to risk my safety or getting stuck on the island until Monday. Now that I’m sitting at home there are new warnings coming across my phone for flooding and riptides for tonight so I’m grateful that JOY and I are home safe and sound!

While I’m disappointed that I don’t get to spend a great weekend with my amazing RVing friends, I truly appreciated the fact that I was able to see a glorious sunrise this morning! I can hear Tim saying “well done baby and great decisionmaking”!

I’ll have to make some different memories this weekend but I’ll never forget the memories I accidentally made involving two Royal Farms locations over the last 24 hour period of my life. Life really can change in just a few minutes. I was able to avoid a serious accident close to home and a potential water emergency far from home! Memories aren’t always good, but they always teach us something! I hope you all have friends like Meg, Lee, Marsha, Laurie and Brenda who aren’t just around for the fun stuff, but who generally love and care for you too! Thank you ladies, love you all!

Are You Happy?

Last week on the eve of my much anticipated trip to Paris, my two favorite retired Metropolitan Police Department (DC) members, Alvin Brown and Mike Ross came to my house to see my recent renovations. We had a great time and they loved the way I’ve transformed my basement into my new living area! Before leaving, Alvin, who was the best man at our wedding, asked me a question that I’ve been processing ever since. The question was “are you happy?”

It seems like a simple question, but it most certainly is not, and though I said Yes after an initial pause, I’ve thought about my answer constantly since. So many thoughts have flooded my mind! Prior to Tim’s death I’d rarely driven myself to the airport to go on Alzheimer’s speaking engagements in a fight against this disease, and I certainly never carried books with me for book signings. But In the three years since Tim’s been gone, I’ve driven myself and flown to countless cities, carrying or mailing in advance all of my books. In the last year alone I’ve made so many new friends on the road as they’ve come to my presentations. These friends have emailed and called me, friended me on Facebook and even mailed me motivational cards or letters which I’ve added to my JOY folder (a folder on both my phone and in my filing cabinet containing inspiring notes and messages to lift my spirits in my down days). I’ve authored three books to date and Mom is now 90 years old is thriving at Lifesprings Eldercare. I’m incredibly proud about both those things, as would Tim be. So in terms of my confidence and success in writing and speaking and advocating and caring for Mom, I’m incredibly happy!

At the same time, this year has been really difficult for me. There was the year long process to get me 7 dental implants and the now 8 month saga of trying to close a hole in my left retina and an accompanying eye infection that just doesn’t want to go away. I worry if I’ll ever regain normal sight in that eye and putting a couple of things in place, just in case my sight worsens. It’s when I’m in pain and afraid that I feel the most alone and unhappy.

The other part of my frustration and anxiety this year has been the almost now 5 month renovation process I’ve done in my home. The goal was to create a more livable space, including a kitchen so I can live in my basement and rent the upstairs to finance my camping trips. The project started off horribly, with lots of mistakes that amounted to more than double my budget. I knew there’d be challenges in a renovation, but they miscues and my mistakes overwhelmed me. I learned so much during this process including the valuable lesson of how to bounce back from misfortune and poor decisions. I’ve wondered every day of this process what Tim would be thinking and saying as this saga has unfolded. There were moments (days actually) that I cried uncontrollably. These have been some of my most unhappy times.

Even though the experience had been incredibly expensive, I’ve learned more about my house and my capabilities than I ever thought possible and for that I’m grateful. I wanted to just cut my losses and give up so many times, but friends kept me going even when I didn’t want to. A pretty low time for me for sure. But the good news is in the new few weeks the process should be totally completed and a renter is already interested. The most amazing outcome of the renovation was the design I wanted for my patio and path to the street of intertwining orange and blue bricks as a symbol of the love that Tim and I shared. It truly exceeded all of my expectations.

My travels for fun are still what makes me happiest, so this year was amazing in that regard… of course my outings with my RVing Women are all awesome and I depend on those to keep me uplifted, but it was my trip of driving alone to and from Maine and meeting Larry and Barbara up there to enjoy a week with me that I count as one of my greatest accomplishments. Tim would be more than proud. And my current trip to see my friend Louise and have her show me around Paris and now Marseille that we arrived in today was the greatest end to my year of celebration of turning 60. Experiencing France again is exhilarating, but tinged with sadness at times without Tim. These trips confirm for me that I’ll continue to travel for as long as I live even if I do so alone! Nothing feeds my soul like traveling and seeing new places and things!

One of the things that is most concerning to me this year is the loss of some friends who mattered to me. I’m not even exactly sure what happened to these relationships but in all honesty I have to take a long look at myself because at times I think I push people away or I simply walk away when they disappoint or hurt me. I think I’ve had enough hurt so at present I seem to give people one chance with me. With all that’s happened this year, I’ve been too tired and preoccupied to try to repair some of these relationships, especially considering the fact that some people are only meant to be in your life for a period of time and maybe that time was just over. I’m grateful to Wendi, Louise and Kris and all of the Gilweski family for being there every step of the way this year, and I wouldn’t have gotten this far without them.

So here’s the bottom line…I’m thrilled that I’m content with myself, with where I am in my life and with what I’m doing in my life. I’m not looking for love and could certainly be happy alone for the rest of my life…. and though people keep asking me when I’m going to start dating, it’s taken me three years to be able to articulate that I’m likely going to choose to be alone. This trip to France has given me lots of meditation time and I haven’t done one minute of work (except on myself) and I’m proud that I’m doing this for myself….I’m starting to see the light!

So YES Alvin, I’m not only HAPPY …. I’m THANKFUL and BLESSED too! So for all of you reading this, I’ll ask you what Alvin asked me. Are You Happy?